William Katz has had a long and varied career, as an assistant to a U.S. senator; an officer in the CIA; an assistant to Herman Kahn, the nuclear war theorist; an editor at the New York Times Magazine; and a talent coordinator at The Tonight Show. He is the author of ten books, translated into 15 languages. He admits to degrees from the University of Chicago and Columbia. When I asked him if he’d ever written about his various careers, he said that he hadn’t but that he would be happy to do so. His reflections on his work for the Tonight Show are here and here. He took a look at the film industry in the posts “Hollywood, hurray for?” and “Hollywood, hurray for? The sequel.” His most recent post (on the publishing industry) is here. Today he writes:
An American president will not be running for a new term. An unpopular war is on, and the White House approval rating is in the jump-off-the-ledge range. The country is angrily divided. Even some of the president’s allies turn on him. The press, especially The New York Times, is endlessly negative, and portrays the war as hopeless. CBS sends its chief anchor to the combat zone. A new general is appointed to turn the war around. The makeup of the Supreme Court is a major issue. Critics decry American “arrogance.”
Today? Well, yes, of course, today. But that was also 1968. The war was Vietnam. The new general was Creighton Abrams Jr., whose vast contribution has been eclipsed by debate over the war. CBS sent Walter Cronkite to Vietnam, and has just sent Katie Couric to Iraq. We might, by the way, hope that Couric’s reporting holds up better than Cronkite’s.
In 1968 I was an editor on The New York Times Magazine, and had pretty much decided to strike out on my own as a writer. And so, as an early step, I wandered downtown one night to the Village Vanguard, the legendary jazz club founded by the equally legendary Max Gordon. The Vanguard was a basement room, and, aside from jazz, sometimes featured cabaret. Isaiah Sheffer, a fine drama teacher, was forming a new comedy group there called The DMZ, so named for the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. In the group was a young, struggling actor named Morgan Freeman.
I was sufficiently inspired by what I saw that night to submit a sketch to The DMZ. It was called, “The Presidential Oath,” the oath of office as it might have been taken by Richard Nixon. The sketch was accepted, and I returned to the Vanguard to attend my “premiere.” For the first time I heard words I’d written spoken by first-class actors. The audience response was terrific. There’s nothing that thrills a writer more than hearing real people laugh when they’re supposed to.
I was launched as a writer, on my way to throwing off the shackles of financial security.
That was ten presidential elections ago, and I recently wondered, how would that oath sound today? Well, given the passions in the country, it might not be a difficult update. So here, almost four decades later, is “The Presidential Oath